In a society where almost the entire adult population drinks alcohol and a significant percentage also like to use other drugs such as tobacco, marijuana, cocaine or ice, it’s hardly surprising that some people are going to develop a dependence on one or more of these substances.
Fortunately, there are plenty of options when it comes to seeking help for a drug use disorder (that’s the technical name for what used to be called ‘addiction’).
These range from self-help options right through to long-term live-in rehabilitation programs. It’s very much a matter of different approaches suiting different individuals, and it’s not uncommon for someone to try a number of treatments.
So, if you’re looking for help in this area, don’t get discouraged if one approach doesn’t work for you. Don’t give up, just try something else. Many people find that they do best when they combine a mixture of treatments – for example, they might attend a self-help group or see a counsellor while they are also being treated by their doctor or a specialised alcohol and other drug clinic.
Here’s an overview of some of the most common treatments for alcohol and other drug problems.
1. Self-help groups
The best known self-help group is Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). Now a worldwide organisation, AA began in the US in the 1930s. It isn’t administered by health professionals and doesn’t receive government funding. Instead it is run by volunteers who have themselves struggled with alcoholism. AA has an abstinence-based 12-step philosophy which sees addiction as a disease. It encourages individuals to acknowledge they need help beyond their own willpower to overcome their problem. Much of the strength of AA is in the fellowship and support that builds between participants. In most parts of the world, you can find an AA meeting to attend any day of the week. No matter who you are, you will be welcomed with open arms, the promise of confidentiality and no judgement.
For the family members of people who struggle with alcoholism, AA has a sister group Al-Anon, designed to provide support for those living with someone who is dependent on alcohol.
Narcotics Anonymous (NA) grew out of the AA movement. In the late 1940s and early 1950s, it became clear that people were experiencing dependence on other drugs besides alcohol. NA caters for this group. It uses the same abstinence-based, ‘12-step’ approach as AA to overcoming addiction. Its strength lies in the fellowship and peer support of others who are also recovering from drug problems, and like AA, you can find daily support meetings in most countries.
NA also has a support group for family members, called Nar-anon.
Another self-help organisation, ‘Smart Recovery’ operates in a different way to AA and NA. Established in the 1990s, it can be found in approximately 15 countries. “Smart” stands for “Self Management And Recovery Training”. At weekly meetings, a trained facilitator uses cognitive behavioural therapy and motivational interviewing techniques to help participants examine the triggers of their problematic drug use, the ways that behaviour helps and hinders them, and looks at goal setting and ways to cope with drug craving.
Your family doctor or general practitioner is a good person to approach if you want to get help with a drug or alcohol problem. They may already know you and your health issues, so can look at how dependence is affecting other areas of your body.
In some cases, they may prescribe medications to help manage withdrawal or cravings, or they may recommend you seek specialist treatment for your drug dependence.
3. Psychologists and counsellors
While not everyone who develops a problem with drugs will have a history of trauma or abuse, many people do. It has been estimated that up to two-thirds of people who are dependent on alcohol or drugs were abused as children. Some individuals will need to process that or other emotional pains as part of overcoming their reliance on substances. A psychologist or counsellor can help them work through traumatic experiences or physical pain that they try to dull with drug or alcohol use.
4. Pharmacological treatment
A number of prescription medications can be used to help individuals avoid using alcohol or opioid-based drugs such as heroin. Drugs such as naltrexone, campral and antabuse may be useful for combatting the way alcohol works in the body, targeting either the brain receptors which alcohol affects or by changing the way the body breaks down alcohol. For opioid addiction, methadone and buprenorphine target the brain’s receptors so that opiate-based drugs don’t have the desired effects. Clinicians generally agree that all these drugs are best used in combination with other counselling and treatments that look at the reasons why an individual might rely on alcohol and other drugs.
5. Online treatment
In the past decade, internet-based treatment programs have become popular. These vary from online surveys with general feedback and audio and video presentations to online courses or one-on-one distance-based counselling. These options are useful for people who are time-poor or who may wish to remain anonymous as they seek treatment. www.BeatAlcoholandDrugAddiction.com was set up to help people access some of these online programs.
6. Drug & alcohol treatment clinics
Many health services offer specialised clinics which focus on treating substance use disorders. These clinics provide a point where patients can access health professions who specialise in working with addictions. These clinics are often based in or near major hospitals.
7. Residential rehabilitation
A live-in therapy experience where people can work intensively on the factors behind their drug use. Residents usually have access to health care staff, counsellors, therapists, 12-step programs and life skills training. Depending on the program and its after-care options, the residential experience could last anything from 30 days to a year or more. Many programs provide a ‘halfway house’ option after the initial residential treatment. This allows participants to live back in the mainstream community while still accessing support from the rehabilitation centre.
There is hope
Society is full of people who have experienced substance dependence but are now leading happy, functional, successful lives. Often, they don’t talk about their problem, because they know others will judge them and may discriminate against them.
Many of those people have tried some, or all of the above, treatment options. Some individuals do successfully overcome a drug problem without professional help, instead drawing on the support of family and friends.
In the end the treatment that’s right for you is the one that works for you. The first step is admitting that you have a problem with alcohol or another drug, and being prepared to reach out for the help you need.
Feel free to take the time to explore this blog and the information provided on this site. Being aware and informed is the first step to making a change in your circumstances. Some treatments, such as residential rehabilitation can have long waiting lists, so it can take months to access professional help. During this time, you might find it useful to visit the ‘Reviews’ page where we explore a number of online programs which might assist you during this time.
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